Hydrofracking Is Poisoning U.S. Water Supply

Shale gas drilling rig in Texas. Photo: David R. Tribble (CC)

Photo: David R. Tribble (CC)

When the mainstream media decries the practices of large energy companies, you know they must really be operating outside any possibility of acceptable behavior. Case in point: hydraulic fracturing for natural gas deposits. Ian Urbina reports for the New York Times:

The American landscape is dotted with hundreds of thousands of new wells and drilling rigs, as the country scrambles to tap into this century’s gold rush — for natural gas.

The gas has always been there, of course, trapped deep underground in countless tiny bubbles, like frozen spills of seltzer water between thin layers of shale rock. But drilling companies have only in recent years developed techniques to unlock the enormous reserves, thought to be enough to supply the country with gas for heating buildings, generating electricity and powering vehicles for up to a hundred years.

So energy companies are clamoring to drill. And they are getting rare support from their usual sparring partners. Environmentalists say using natural gas will help slow climate change because it burns more cleanly than coal and oil. Lawmakers hail the gas as a source of jobs. They also see it as a way to wean the United States from its dependency on other countries for oil.

But the relatively new drilling method — known as high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking — carries significant environmental risks. It involves injecting huge amounts of water, mixed with sand and chemicals, at high pressures to break up rock formations and release the gas.

With hydrofracking, a well can produce over a million gallons of wastewater that is often laced with highly corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene and radioactive elements like radium, all of which can occur naturally thousands of feet underground. Other carcinogenic materials can be added to the wastewater by the chemicals used in the hydrofracking itself.

While the existence of the toxic wastes has been reported, thousands of internal documents obtained by The New York Times from the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators and drillers show that the dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood.

The documents reveal that the wastewater, which is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water, contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously known, and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for these treatment plants to handle.

Other documents and interviews show that many E.P.A. scientists are alarmed, warning that the drilling waste is a threat to drinking water in Pennsylvania. Their concern is based partly on a 2009 study, never made public, written by an E.P.A. consultant who concluded that some sewage treatment plants were incapable of removing certain drilling waste contaminants and were probably violating the law.

The Times also found never-reported studies by the E.P.A. and a confidential study by the drilling industry that all concluded that radioactivity in drilling waste cannot be fully diluted in rivers and other waterways.

But the E.P.A. has not intervened. In fact, federal and state regulators are allowing most sewage treatment plants that accept drilling waste not to test for radioactivity. And most drinking-water intake plants downstream from those sewage treatment plants in Pennsylvania, with the blessing of regulators, have not tested for radioactivity since before 2006, even though the drilling boom began in 2008…

[continues in the New York Times]

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  • DeepCough

    If you watch the movie Gasland, you’ll find that hydrofracking gives whole new meaning to the word “firewater.”

  • DeepCough

    If you watch the movie Gasland, you’ll find that hydrofracking gives whole new meaning to the word “firewater.”

  • Anonymous

    It is not really a new technique, another mass media distortion. What was new was an energy crisis combined with a very corrupt administration and legalisation what everyone knew would be gas mining technique that would inherently be very polluting.
    The obvious pointers to that being the specific exclusion of the mining technique from specific EPA regulations that would normally control it and the allowance to keep secret the compounds injected into the ground to hide for as long as possible the source of pollution.
    They knew, they absolutely positively knew, both the Republican Administration and the mining corporations, that the gas mining technique would pollute fresh water supplies, they knew the result of this would be the pain, suffering and death of those reliant upon those fresh water supplies and they wrote laws to ensure they could get away with it for as long as possible and escape from the penalties they deserve for pre-meditated murder and knowingly poisoning people.
    There is no hiding the corruption in implementing those fracking laws, their intent and the consequences.

  • rtb61

    It is not really a new technique, another mass media distortion. What was new was an energy crisis combined with a very corrupt administration and legalisation what everyone knew would be gas mining technique that would inherently be very polluting.
    The obvious pointers to that being the specific exclusion of the mining technique from specific EPA regulations that would normally control it and the allowance to keep secret the compounds injected into the ground to hide for as long as possible the source of pollution.
    They knew, they absolutely positively knew, both the Republican Administration and the mining corporations, that the gas mining technique would pollute fresh water supplies, they knew the result of this would be the pain, suffering and death of those reliant upon those fresh water supplies and they wrote laws to ensure they could get away with it for as long as possible and escape from the penalties they deserve for pre-meditated murder and knowingly poisoning people.
    There is no hiding the corruption in implementing those fracking laws, their intent and the consequences.

    • chase

      Hey don’t forget the Democrates were in this just as much as the Republicans – remember
      – Bush and Clinton holding hands stating how both parties were joining up…

      Hang em all rtb61 – just please hang em high – and take a pic to warn future companies and politicians what will come of them if they even think of doing something like this.

      Screw diplomacy – the hell with red tape
      And if this is what they are doing and so easily willing to sell out their own country and couintry men – image the crap they are doing to other countries and their country men.

      Highly recomend you see the documentary – “Gasland” amoung others. Gasland will set your mind straight.

  • chase

    Hey don’t forget the Democrates were in this just as much as the Republicans – remember
    – Bush and Clinton holding hands stating how both parties were joining up…

    Hang em all rtb61 – just please hang em high – and take a pic to warn future companies and politicians what will come of them if they even think of doing something like this.

    Screw diplomacy – the hell with red tape
    And if this is what they are doing and so easily willing to sell out their own country and couintry men – image the crap they are doing to other countries and their country men.

    Highly recomend you see the documentary – “Gasland” amoung others. Gasland will set your mind straight.

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